Nov 21, 2011
Sevens Interview: Jeremy Wallace + Doctrine Debate
Why I’m Interviewing Jeremy Wallace?
If this were a heavy-metal concert and I was the MC in leather jeans, it’d be here I’d scream into the mic: “Are you ready (insert whatever city you live in here)?”
Some years ago, while serving as a college pastor on the campus of the University of Oregon, I attended a college pastor’s conference focusing on serving the spiritual needs of twenty-something’s in the college-age setting. One of my fellow participants would eventually become a life-long friend. Jeremy Wallace is an associate pastor at Canby Foursquare Church where he has served since 2001. As an Instructor of Ministry at Canby Bible College, he has also served as Dean of the College since 2005. Academically, he received a B.A. in Biblical Literature from Oral Roberts University (1998), studied at Jerusalem University College (2000), and completed his M.Div. from the Oral Roberts Graduate School of Theology & Missions (2001). He completed his doctoral studies in 2009 at Western Seminary (Portland, Oregon) with a D.Min. in Ministerial Leadership. As well as his duties at Canby Bible College, Jeremy also serves as adjunct professor of Bible & Theology at Life Pacific College in San Dimas, California. Jeremy and his wife, Rebeka, have three daughters (Moriah, Selah & Phoebe) and one son (Malachi). Their hearts beat for educational ministry and Christian discipleship.
I’ve had the joy of watching Jeremy thrive for some time. For the last two years, I’ve taught a number of courses at Canby Bible College. The culture of the school is profoundly healthy, hungry, and humble. The students yearn for scripture, theology, and personal growth. This is undeniably due to Jeremy who has fostered a great academic environment where students not only can grow but can be challenged.
Not only is he a good leader, Jeremy is as sharp as a tack. He knows the Bible very well and communicates his knowledge and passion every time his mouth opens. Most particularly, Jeremy has a yearning to see Christians exude a doctrinal and theological health that can sustain life-long growth and discipleship.
I interviewed Jeremy about the notion of doctrine. Clearly, the question of doctrine has made the front pages in recent months. On a popular level, Christians are wrestling with how to read the Bible, how to develop a theology, and how to conceptualize the life after this one. So, perhaps no more than now, the question of doctrine is central. A central feature of this conversation centers on how doctrine and discipleship go hand-in-hand. I once heard someone say, “We are all victims of our own doctrine.” That is, our lives are results of our thinking in many respects and none of us are impervious to bad thinking. Our thinking often leads to good living or not-so-good living.
I thought a couple of questions about how Jeremy deals with doctrine could spark a discussion.
Q1: Why is doctrine important in the church today?
A1: Doctrine, in my view, is important for a whole host of reasons, many of which are practical. There is certainly the imperatival reason for why Christians would do well to care about doctrine, for the apostle Paul instructed Titus to “teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Why? Because Truth matters. As creatures created in the image of our Creator, we need God – who knows all – to be given the rightful place in our lives, not the least of which is that of governance over our thinking. Simply put, “Stinking thinking” often leads to undue hardship, bigotry, judgmentalism and suffering.
Q2: Can doctrine actually get in the way of discipleship?
A2: I once heard it said that “right living comes from right thinking, and right thinking comes by the Word of God.” I’m inclined to agree. If discipleship is about knowing, loving, serving and following King Jesus, then two objectives will arise--thinking like Jesus and living in His Kingdom. When He is given proper rule in our lives He’s given place to teach us by His Spirit what is in accord with His Word. If by doctrine we mean “right thinking,” and by discipleship we mean “right living/worship,” then doctrine will actually enhance one’s followership of Christ.
Q3: Can someone have “right living” without “right thinking?”
A3: I suppose we’d have to unpack what exactly we mean by “right living.” If by “right living” we’re talking about behavior and deeds, then I think it may be possible that someone could model right behavior without having an explicit knowledge of what’s behind their actions. Much of parenting relates to this kind of “right living.” If, however, we qualify “right living” in terms of “right worship” or a “living-as-I-was-intended-to/originally-created-to-by-God” kind of way, then at this point we’re actually getting closer to the original sense of the word orthodoxy (“right praise” – understood in terms of a life of worship). Jesus had some ‘choice words’ for those in places of leadership (egs., Pharisees, Scribes, Lawyers, etc) whose actions were fine, but their deeds betrayed the motivations of their hearts. Duplicity marks the human condition after The Fall. Prior to the Fall Adam and Eve functioned harmoniously in their make-up: an existence without duplicity of mind/heart and their deeds. Everything about them was tov meod (“very good”).
Q4: You talk about Orthodoxy being originally meant as “right worship” rather than “right thinking.” Where might one find out more about that and what does “right worship” practically look like?
A4: When I say “original sense of the word orthodoxy” I’m not pitting “right worship” with “right thinking” in an either/or fashion, but subsuming “right thinking” as included in the broader category of “right worship.” As to sources for investigating this further, a number of dictionaries show the basic etymology of orthodoxy as meaning “right praise,” “right glory,” and/or “right belief.” Over time the dominant usage for the term denoted “right belief” in the early church – understandable in light of the need to address teachings not in keeping with the “apostles’ doctrine.” Jaroslav Pelikan, Georges Florovsky, Kallistos Ware and Thomas Fitzgerald treat this development respectively. As to what “right worship” might look like, I think of the words of Paul in Romans 12:1-2: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (NIV). What “worship” looks like may be as varied as what “love” looks like. Indeed, I think they’re intimately related. We humans are worshippers by nature.
Q5: Tony Jones, in a recent interview, argued that Orthodoxy is not a set of beliefs but rather an experience. How would you respond to that?
A5: I have a great deal of respect for Tony Jones, so it is in a spirit of congeniality that I might challenge the notion that one can exist in such a way that we can have “experiences” apart from, or devoid of, “beliefs” or “set of beliefs.” As creatures of God we bear a complete consciousness; our thinking/feeling/choosing capabilities are not easily (if at all) bifurcated. To segregate these to the point where one could say that we can “experience” something apart from the use of our “noetic faculties” is to, in my view, make a distinction that Scripture simply doesn’t support. To be fair, I’d have to ask Tony what he has in mind by the term “experience.” It seems to me that a person would have to possess some degree of “knowledge” that he or she “experienced” something in the first place, and therefore would have some “belief” (or set of beliefs) about the “experience” they’re referencing. If experiences in and of themselves are not grounded in Truth (as rooted in and defined by God) then any experience could be argued to be “orthodox.”
Q6: On a pastoral level, how do you train people in good doctrine?
A6: I think one of the best ways to go about training people in sound doctrine is to simply keep telling The Story. The overarching narrative of Scripture flows from Creation to humanity’s spiritual Separation to the Incarnation all the way to Re-Creation. I try to constantly approach discipleship in a way that helps us grapple with where we fit in His Story. Helping people to see that, as C.S. Lewis put it, “All theology is practical,” is also beneficial. It helps us to be self-critical (in a productive way). Not all “beliefs” are created equal. What we believe about life’s most fundamental questions really does matter. Modeling and promoting an insatiable hunger for the Word of God and the Spirit of God is fundamental to discipleship. We need to model humility and surrender to the authoritative revelation of Scripture. We also need to allow people to think through what’s going on in their heart and to do that in a safe environment.
Q7: What is this story you are talking about?
A7: Genesis 1:1—Revelation 22:21. I’ll refer again to the Creation à Separation à Incarnation à Re-Creation schema. I believe this encapsulates the Story of God’s redemptive history. Mankind is the dream-come-true of the infinitely Good Creator. Due to Sin entering the world, humanity became a lesser version of itself, and all our attempts to fix and save us fail. God did not leave us hanging, though. God took on humanity in the person of Jesus, and now, for all who would allow Him to have His rightful place in their lives, he gives them a new (restored) nature and identity: “To as many as received Him, to those who believed on His name, he gave to them the ability to become children of God” (John 1:12). For all who surrender their lives to His Lordship, His restoring, redeeming, reconciling, recapitulating work comes to us from God the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. What a marvelous Story. There is no greater Truth on which to stake your life.
Reflections and Reactions?
What do you think about what Jeremy is saying here? Is his summation cogently argued? What is the role of doctrine in the church? What is the role of doctrine in Christian discipleship? Is it necessary? Can we get around it? Should we?
What are your thoughts and reflections? Please leave a comment. Let us know your thoughts.
To read more Sevens interviews or read about why they exist, go here.
To connect with Jeremy, send him an email at email@example.com.